Big Agriculture Looks to Africa

Michael Kourabas
| Monday July 7th, 2014 | 2 Comments
Students walk through a school farm in Mozambique.

Students walk through a school farm in Mozambique. Small farms like this one may be at risk of being gobbled up by corporate land-grabs and a potential agricultural “gold rush” in sub-Saharan Africa.

As the world begins to awaken to the looming food crisis — how we will feed 2 billion more people by the year 2050 — investors are turning to a place not typically associated with its agricultural bounty, but a region that National Geographic Magazine (NatGeo) is calling “The Next Breadbasket”:  sub-Saharan Africa.  In its July edition, NatGeo’s Joel K. Bourne Jr. (aided by predictably stunning photos from Robin Hammond) points a wide lens at the issues raised by the creation of giant agricultural developments in sub-Saharan Africa, including some of the potential benefits as well as the likely pitfalls.

First, why sub-Saharan Africa?  The short answer is that the region has the most potential upside, or what is referred to as “yield gap,” on Earth.  This essentially means that Africa is home to an enormous amount of arable land, yet the continent produces “roughly the same yield Roman farmers achieved  … in a good year during the rule of Caesar.”  Put another way, less than 5 percent of arable land in the sub-Saharan area is currently irrigated, and farms in the region are not reaching anything near their potential output.

This is likely true for a number of obvious reasons, and NatGeo’s Bourne lists the clear culprits:  poor infrastructure, limited markets, weak governance and brutal civil wars.  The other key ingredient is the amenability of African governments, some of which are willing to overlook (or inadequately safeguard) the property rights of their citizens in favor of influxes of foreign cash and the attendant benefits.

The “why now” is two-fold.  On the one hand is the impending food crisis, which is centered on the African continent and which, for most of Africa, is not really impending but has been plaguing the region for years.  Second, there’s the real driving force:  the potential monetary upside for investors.  As Bourne puts it, “Since 2007 the near-record prices of corn, soybeans, wheat, and rice have set off a global land rush by corporate investors eager to lease or buy land in countries where acreage is cheap, governments are amenable, and property rights often ignored.”  Large Chinese and Brazilian companies have eyed the “millions of acres of fallow land and plentiful water available for irrigation” and seen the potential for massive profits.  It seems only a matter of time before others join the party as well.  In fact, Bourne points out that a recent conference in New York for agricultural investors drew some “800 financial leaders from around the globe who manage nearly three trillion dollars in investments.”

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Ceres: Half of America’s Largest Companies Don’t Report on Climate Risk

Bill DiBenedetto | Monday July 7th, 2014 | 1 Comment

climate changeRisk assessment is risky and often murky business, and it’s generally acknowledged that the globe’s climate is at risk — so how companies assess the financial impact of climate change in their risk portfolios should be an important consideration, both for shareholders and bottom lines, right?

Maybe not so much, it seems. Ceres, a nonprofit advocacy group that focuses on corporate sustainability, contends that not many companies believe climate change will have a material impact on their business. “Roughly half of the 3,000 biggest publicly traded companies in the U.S. say mum’s the word, reporting zilch in their annual filings to U.S. regulators,” it says.

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Greenpeace Challenges Lego on Shell Gas Station Set

| Monday July 7th, 2014 | 1 Comment

Shell LEGO Greenpeace criticGreenpeace is an expert at raising awareness about critical environmental issues but the organization is not infallible, and it may have picked a losing battle with its latest target: the Lego Group. Last week, Greenpeace accused Lego of “keeping bad company” by renewing its longstanding brand co-promotion of “Royal Dutch Shell Lego” playsets.

Triple Pundit, for one, has published dozens of articles critical of Shell, so we get Greenpeace’s “bad company” reference. However, the Shell tie-in forms a miniscule part of the Lego Group’s profile, and it is difficult to imagine another toy that is so widely and universally loved as Lego’s building blocks and playsets. That surely puts the Greenpeace effort in danger of experiencing an across-the-board backlash, and the end result could be simply to foster a run on Lego’s Shell-branded products.

We can practically smell the tubes smoking with online orders now, but that’s not the only thing that Greenpeace may have miscalculated.

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Ikea Bumps Up Minimum Wage for U.S. Workers

Mike Hower
| Monday July 7th, 2014 | 1 Comment

downloadCongress might be deadlocked over the minimum wage debate, but some companies aren’t waiting. Ikea recently announced it will raise the average minimum wage in its U.S. stores to $10.76, a 17 percent increase over the current wage and $3.51 above the current federal minimum wage.

The furniture company says the increase will impact around half of its U.S. retail workforce. Notably, hourly wages will vary based on the cost of living in each store location — a departure from determining wages based on the local competitive situation — and are centered on employee needs. The wage increase is based on the MIT Living Wage Calculator, which takes into consideration housing, food, medical and transportation costs plus annual taxes.

All 38 existing U.S. retail locations, as well as Ikea’s three new locations set to open before the end of 2015, will adopt the new structure. All non-retail locations in the U.S. – including five distribution centers, two service centers and a manufacturing facility – have hourly wage jobs that are already paying minimum wages above the local living wage.

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Arborwall Brings Energy Efficient Log Cabins to the Custom-Built Home Market

Sarah Lozanova | Monday July 7th, 2014 | 0 Comments
Arborwall homes have a contemporary appearance that fit into many different communities and settings.

Arborwall homes have a contemporary appearance that fit into many different communities and settings.

Log cabins were widely used in Europe, and the concept quickly spread when immigrants arrived on American soil.  Settlers had an abundance of lumber and mud, along with basic tools: the ax, auger and adz. This quick and simple building technique spread westward and is now an enduring symbol of American history. Even Abraham Lincoln was born in a log cabin.

Unfortunately, log cabins are also symbolic of widespread logging and loss of pristine virgin forests. Many log cabins are not energy efficient, and few comply with most building code energy standards. Based in northern Maine, Arborwall is demonstrating that log cabins are more than rustic backwoods dwellings.

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Nestlé Reduces U.S. Waste By 44 Percent Since 2010

Mike Hower
| Monday July 7th, 2014 | 0 Comments

NestleLogoNext time you grab a Crunch bar, you can feel slightly less guilty, at least about the environmental impact. Nestlé has reduced 44 percent of waste per ton of product since 2010 in the U.S., and five factory locations reached zero-waste-to-landfill status by the end of 2013, according to the company’s recent sustainability report.

The Creating Shared Value (CSV) report is the company’s first expanded effort to highlight U.S.-specific milestones and achievements tied to Nestlé’s global sustainability principles and commitments. The report documents Nestlé’s nutritional, social and environmental progress from the past year, as well as provides updates on the company’s U.S. progress toward Nestlé’s global commitments.

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7 Companies Embracing Independence With Employee Ownership

Mary Mazzoni
| Friday July 4th, 2014 | 1 Comment

4324883337_4a8f4551d4_zFor a special holiday edition of 3p Weekend, this week we’re focusing on companies that embody the spirit of July Fourth by formalizing their employees’ independence. 

Once a niche phenomenon, the number of worker-owned businesses is growing by about 6 percent per year in the U.S. The number of employee-owned companies grew from 1,600 in 1975 to around 11,000 in 2013, accounting for 12 percent of the private-sector workforce.

Sometimes criticized as “not quite capitalism,” Employee Stock Ownership Plans (ESOPs) are picking up steam as a way to center companies around worker collaboration, rather than the pressure of external stakeholders. So, as we light up our fireworks and let our flags fly, we salute these seven companies that took a chance on independence — and reaped the rewards.

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‘Dragonfly’ Malware Highlights Vulnerability of Energy Infrastructure

| Friday July 4th, 2014 | 1 Comment

PowerLinesWith an explosion in the number of “smart” Internet-connected devices, it seems hardly a week goes by when we’re not reminded of the vulnerability of individuals, organizations and even entire societies to malware, online spying and cyber attacks.

In a whitepaper released June 30, Symantec Security Response reports on an ongoing, sophisticated, very possibly state-sponsored “cyber espionage campaign dubbed Dragonfly (aka Energetic Bear)” that managed to infiltrate information systems of “energy grid operators, major electricity generation firms, petroleum pipeline operators and energy industry industrial control system (ICS) equipment manufacturers.”

The majority of the victims were located in the U.S., Spain, France, Italy, Germany, Turkey and Poland, according to a post on Symantec’s Managed Security Services Blog. As CNNMoney journalist Jose Pagliery noted in a July 2 news report, it seems the Cold War didn’t end with the 1989 fall of the Berlin Wall, it just moved into cyber space.

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eBay Delivers on 2013 Social Innovation Goals

Sherrell Dorsey
| Friday July 4th, 2014 | 1 Comment

Ebay, ebay social responsibility, ebay social innovation annual update, ebay environmental commitment, ebay environmental sustainability, ebay charity, ebay social good, ebay social enterprise, social enterprise, ebay charitable giving, Lauren Moore ebayeBay Inc. is proving to be a company that delivers on its promises. With more than 33,000 employees worldwide, the e-commerce giant isn’t naïve about its two-decade span of influence on both society and the global economy. In its very first Social Innovation annual update, eBay Inc. successfully demonstrated its commitment following a series of goals set last June to fuel shareholder value and pursue a three-year, long-term series of objectives to create positive societal and environmental change.

“We’ve long believed in eBay Inc.’s capacity to drive both shareholder value and positive social and environmental change—it’s not just off to the side, it’s built into what we do every day,” said Lauren Moore, head of Global Social Innovation for eBay Inc. “Our Social Innovation efforts formalize this sense of purpose that’s been here from the start and provide a framework to understand our impact. And as shareholder value is increasingly measured in more ways than just purely financial gain, we believe our Social Innovation efforts will continue to position us for sustainable growth over the short and long term.”

eBay Inc.’s annual update is guided by three key focus areas — creating economic opportunity, enabling greener commerce and powering charitable giving — and demonstratively connects each to the crux of its business goals.

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Transparency and Certification: The Yin and Yang of Sustainability

3p Contributor | Thursday July 3rd, 2014 | 6 Comments

ul-environment-logoBy Scot Case

Tastes great. Less filling. Tastes great. Less filling. Like the beer advertising campaign that ran for more than 30 years, manufacturers of greener products are debating whether customers want them to “label the greener products” or “share the eco-data.”

Label the greener products

Some manufacturers believe that their customers want a respected third-party label to identify the greener products. The label identifies the product as “greener” than others because it has specific environmental features or because it meets an environmental leadership standard.

Manufacturers are working with independent third-parties to validate specific environmental claims such as minimum recycled-content percentages, energy efficiency or water efficiency claims, indoor air quality emissions or bio-based content claims.

They are also using labels to make broader environmental or human health leadership claims by certifying products to environmental leadership standards like UL’s GREENGUARD and ECOLOGO, Green Seal, IEEE1680, or others.

The advantage of the “label the greener products” approach is that it is a simple, effective way to communicate a customer-facing environmental message. It does not require customers to spend time determining for themselves what defines a greener product. All a customer needs to do is look for products with a respected “green” label.

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Scientists Call for Holistic Tropical Coastal Zone Management

| Thursday July 3rd, 2014 | 0 Comments

tropics-climate-shutterstock_128154149-617x416More than 1.3 billion people worldwide – most in developing countries – depend largely on coastal marine zones them for food and livelihoods. These zones face declining health and productivity from pollution, overfishing and a myriad of other issues.

New regional-scale, science-driven approaches to governance of coastal marine zones need to be implemented in order to address the declining health and productivity of tropical coastal waters, according to a group of leading environmental and marine scientists.

Writing in the Marine Pollution Bulletin, 24 scientists from Canada, the U.S., the U.K., China, Australia, New Caledonia, Sweden and Kenya on July 2 called on governments and societies “to introduce and enforce use zoning efforts of Earth’s coastal ocean waters, mirroring approaches commonly used to manage and protect land resources.”

“[O]ne fifth of humanity — mostly in developing countries — lives within 100 km (62.5 miles) of a tropical coastline. Growing populations and worsening climate change impacts ensure that pressures on tropical coastal waters will only grow,” they warn.

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Indy Motor Speedway Completes World’s Largest Sports Solar Farm

| Thursday July 3rd, 2014 | 0 Comments

indy500logoRacing is a longstanding and hugely popular spring and summer tradition in the U.S. And when it comes to car racing events, they don’t get any bigger than the Indianapolis 500. The world’s largest single-day spectator sporting event, the Indy 500 covers 500 miles – 200 laps on the world famous Indianapolis Motor Speedway’s 2.5-mile oval.

Built for speed and getting a whopping 3 miles per gallon, Indy racing cars conjure up what the American Chemical Society referred to as “images of gas-guzzling, pollution-belching environmental menaces” – not exactly “in tune” with a nationwide clean energy and energy efficiency drive.

As it turns out, the ethanol blends now being used in Indy race cars actually make their emissions cleaner than those of the cars Americans drive every day, however. That’s not all the organizers of the Indy 500 are doing to clean up their energy act.

A ribbon-cutting ceremony on July 1 marked the opening of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway (IMS) Solar Farm. Consisting of 39,312 solar photovoltaic (PV) panels ground-mounted along an under-utilized portion of the 1,000-acre campus, the 9-megawatt (MW) PV installation is the largest solar farm at any sporting facility in the world, according to an IMS press release.

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Airline Industry Shaves Weight to Save Money

RP Siegel | Thursday July 3rd, 2014 | 2 Comments

virgin 10 We don’t often associate airplanes with low-hanging fruit. I mean, it might just be the worst metaphor one could imagine. After all, planes spend a lot of time entirely out of reach. But when it comes to finding ways to save fuel and reduce carbon emissions, there’s lots of low hanging fruit.

The automobile industry has invested billions reducing the weight of their cars to reduce fuel consumption and they don’t even have to lift them off the ground. So it’s no surprise to hear that airlines are saving millions by reducing weight. What’s surprising is that they haven’t done more of that sooner.

The opportunity is enormous. Researchers at MIT estimate that that cost of each passenger carrying a cellphone costs Southwest Airlines $1.2 million annually in weight-related fuel expenses. That number jumps to $21.6 million if the cellphone is replaced by a laptop. Other pundits have pointed out that if every passenger used the bathroom before boarding the plane, it could save the airline millions. This caused budget airline Ryanair to consider charging passengers to use the bathrooms in flight (to encourage them to plan ahead).

Virgin Atlantic estimates that shaving even a single pound off all the planes in their fleet would save them 14,000 gallons of fuel per year. The airline has redesigned its meal trays, an exercise that was originally intended to improve the customer dining experience. Turns out they could fit more of the smaller, lighter trays on each meal cart, which means fewer meal carts per plane. The net result is close to a 300-pound weight loss. It’s a great example of the kind of rewards that creative thinking, and a willingness to think outside the box, can bring.

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Heartbleed Continues to Threaten Internet Security and Consumer Trust

Sarah Lozanova | Wednesday July 2nd, 2014 | 1 Comment

Heartbleed threatWhen news of the OpenSSL Heartbleed vulnerability was announced to the public, its risk dominated the press. This infamous security vulnerability allows hackers to intercept communications and obtain information from vulnerable servers. OpenSSL is used for countless services, including Web servers, mobile applications, operating systems, routers and email clients. Articles quickly spread across the Internet with recommendations — some of which were counterproductive — yet many users took no action at all to protect sensitive information.

“This is a serious vulnerability,” wrote Forbes cybersecurity columnist Joseph Steinberg about Heartbleed. “Some might argue that it is the worst vulnerability found (at least in terms of its potential impact) since commercial traffic began to flow on the Internet.”

Consumers trust banks, retail stores and communications companies with personal information, including phone, credit card and social security numbers. Despite a couple of months passing since Heartbleed was announced, the bug continues to haunt consumer, technology firms and corporations alike. Consumer trust was severely violated during this security debacle, as judged by the overwhelmingly negative sentiment shared online Heartbleed immediately after the breech was announced. Companies need to rebuild trust and educate consumers to protect their data — but some are responding with ambivalence and inaction, the opposite of what is needed.

A study by Errata Security found 309,197 servers were still vulnerable (down from 600,000 in April), some of them critical. “This indicates people have stopped even trying to patch,” says Robert Graham, Errata’s owner. “We should see a slow decrease over the next decade as older systems are slowly replaced. Even a decade from now, though, I still expect to find thousands of systems, including critical ones, still vulnerable.”

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From Coffee and Tea to Fish in the Sea: A New Frontier of Fair Trade

Fair Trade USA | Wednesday July 2nd, 2014 | 0 Comments
A Fair Trade fishing village in Indonesia.

A Fair Trade fishing village in Indonesia.

By Maya Spaull

All too often the news reports about marine species are grim: We read about declining fish stocks, illegal and unregulated fishing and the increasing degradation of coral reefs. Why is this happening? What factors motivate fishing practices that create such harmful outcomes to our precious marine resources?

Fishermen are often on the losing end of global trade, facing low market prices and lack of tools to improve resource management. Fair Trade USA believes there is a missing piece to this complex, yet critically important and ever-evolving puzzle – that we cannot have truly sustainable seafood unless we make sustainable livelihoods for fishing communities a top priority. We believe that Fair Trade can be part of a larger effort to make wild-caught seafood better for people and planet.

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